Review: The Gentle Indifference of the World
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2018: Kazakh filmmaker Adilkhan Yerzhanov presents a poetic-realist film exploring love in the absence of freedom, and co-produced by France
"I’ve been all over the world, I’ve seen Earth’s many wonders, but nothing compares to you; you, your red dress and your yellow parasol.” Such utterly pure sentiments, and the tale of their struggle to survive in an environment that is mundane, materialistic and contemptible to the extreme, are at the heart of The Gentle Indifference of the World [+see also:
interview: Adilkhan Yerzhanov
film profile]. A film which advances at a calm and steady pace in a nod to traditional cinematographic style, this is the latest work by Kazakh filmmaker Adilkhan Yerzhanov which was screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the 71st Cannes Film Festival. Melding minimalist interior shots with vast panoramas, the golden plains of his homeland set against a backdrop of mountains, the director is singing off of a very specific song sheet at once theatrical, symbolic and timeless, which also has much resonance in a world where all too readily we fall out over a fistful of veg, where we are forced to turn a deaf ear or silence our consciences, and where men who lurk in the shadows of wood-panelled offices exploit economic turmoil, particularly that of females.
This is, therefore, the very sad story of the trampling of virtue by vice, and a tale expounding the eternal strength of love (with a screenplay co-penned by director Roelof Jan Menneboo). By way of illustration, the film gets underway with blood-drops beading on a fine white flower. In the peace and tranquillity of a rural village, we find the very beautiful Saltanat (Dinara Baktybayev). Qualified in medicine, able to speak English, confident with computers, but equally a lover of literature and painting, Saltanat is confronted with a family trauma: the suicide of her father who was crippled by debt. Terrified of losing their house and their piece of family land, her mother begs her to ask for help from her uncle in the city, an uncle who will attempt to orchestrate a marriage between his niece and one of his business partners. Accompanied by Kuandyk (Kuandyk Dussenbaev), her childhood friend (who’s clearly in love with her) who’s determined to keep her safe, Saltanant does all she can to avoid falling prey to these ugly, suited men and finds a job as a cleaner in a nearby hospital. Kuandyk, meanwhile, begins a rebellion of his own, contesting the stranglehold enforced by a small-time boss over the local vegetable trade. Very quickly, however, they will be forced to risk their honour, coming close to crushing their most deeply held ideals…
Composed of beautiful static shots, The Gentle Indifference of the World is a highly stylised and offbeat work which stands out among a crowd of full-length films in which modernity abounds. This approach affords the film an undeniable, subtle charm (in which the influence of silent film can sometimes be found) and a narrative that’s rather languid in style, in spite of certain events which lend pace to the storyline – we might hear quotes from Camus, but we also see chases and fights, we see guns being drawn and shots being fired, and even the special forces are called upon to block the route of our amoureux. It’s a parable – though offering a slightly different concept – clearly composed with great care and attention, and it confirms (after The Owners, to give one example, presented during a Special Screening in Cannes 2014) the strong artistic identity of this director who has firmly anchored himself in 7th art traditions.
(Translated from French)
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